Cows die from lead poisoning on Cork dairy farm

Several cows have died on a dairy farm in Cork from what is believed to be lead poisoning.

The incident on the North Cork farm is now under investigation by both the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority (FSAI). Dairygold Co-op has confirmed that the farm is one of its milk suppliers.

The FSAI has performed a risk assessment on product from the farm which entered the food chain prior to the restriction and has determined that there is no risk to the consumer.

A Department spokesperson has also confirmed that while the investigation is ongoing, and on a precautionary basis, the movement of animals from the herd is restricted.

As a precautionary measure, the Department has advised Dairygold to suspend milk collections from the farm concerned pending the outcome of the Department’s investigation.

A spokesperson for Dairygold confirmed that the Department of Agriculture is examining a non-contagious animal health issue on the farm of one of its suppliers, but said it is not in a position to comment further on what is a Department of Agriculture investigation.

Investigations currently underway are focussed on degrading lead weights on collars worn by the animals.

There is no evidence of any other source of contamination. A small number of farms known to have used the same weights have been identified and the weights removed. The Department has found no evidence of similar problems on these farms.

Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning follows ingestion of lead-containing materials such as material from discarded car batteries; lead-based paints are now rare.

Lead poisoning is characterised by acute brain disease. Irrespective of the rate of uptake of lead, the clinical signs of intoxication are sudden in onset and characterised by behavioural changes.

Affected cattle become isolated and depressed but are over- reactive to touch and sound. They are blind but show no clinical lesions in the eyes and may press the head into corners and against walls.

As the disease progresses, cattle become frenzied, bellow, stagger and crash into obstacles. There maybe signs of abdominal pain including kicking at the abdomen and frequent teeth grinding. Death may occur suddenly or within days.

Treatment

Cattle with severe neurological signs of several days’ duration may have extensive brain pathology that is unlikely to respond to treatment.

Slow intravenous injections of a 5% solution of sodium calcium edentate and oral solutions of magnesium sulphate are the treatments of choice but are rarely successful once severe neurological signs are present.